After spending the past year working closely with MasterChef Champion Irini Tzortzoglou on our Greek Cookaway range, we went to visit the place where it all started for our Greek Chef – the island of Crete.
We spent a week exploring Crete’s stunning landscapes, rich culture, and beautiful beaches. But above all we went to Crete for the food. The exquisite food and drink in Crete in one of the many treasures of Greek’s largest island. Cretan food is simple and fresh with most ingredients, like olive oil, cheeses and vegetables, locally sourced from around the island.
Exploring Tavernas and Kafenios
Trying out different traditional Greek tavernas was a highlight of our trip. Often family run, these quaint, local establishments serve homemade meals throughout the day and come alive at night.
If you’re looking for a morning coffee or a refreshing drink in the afternoon head to a kafenio. Much like tavernas, kafenios are family run and serve as the social centre of villages serving everything from breakfast to meze dishes, and ouzo on the rocks. People might come for a drink after work or to play a game of cards. We visited a kafenio in Crete and totally fell in love with the vibe and character. We even made some friends!
What’s on the menu in Crete?
Dakos – Cretan dakos are one of the most popular meze on the island. Dakos is a rusk and is often served with tomatoes, olive oil and mizithra (a fresh and local, soft sheep or goat’s cheese). Here at The Cookaway we have a delicious Greek Salad with Dakos.
Souvlaki – Souvlaki is not native to just Crete but it is a popular street food across the whole of Greece. Souvlaki traditionally consists of small pieces of meat (lamb, pork or chicken). It can be served with pita, lemon, sliced tomatoes and onions, and chips plus tzatziki as a side. The juicy, tender meat that melts on your tongue is what makes a good souvlaki so addictive and flavoursome. The Cookaway offers an outstanding Pork and Chicken Souvlaki that is sure to blow your mind.
Tsigariasto – Tsigariatso is a signature Cretan delicacy from the western part of the island. It is lamb or goat cooked slowly in olive oil and served with wild greens and hand-cut Cretan fries. This dish is simple but the quality of the ingredients is essential and is what creates the rich taste.
Dolmades – Dolmades are stuffed vine leaves often served with Greek yoghurt. They are the ultimate veggie appetiser and the slight lemony tang is the key to an excellent dolma.
Coffee – Coffee is a huge part of Greek culture and over the warmer months an iced coffee in Greece is just what you need. Either you can get the traditional frappé which is made from instant coffee, water, sugar and evaporated milk or the latest craze in Greece which is the Freddo espresso. A Freddo Espresso is 1 shot of hot espresso poured into a metal canister. It’s then mixed with an electric blender, using ice cubes, and sugar is also added in the mixing process. The contrast between hot and cold is what creates the drink’s signature foam. A freddo cappuccino is the same but with a lovely creamy foam layered on top made with evaporated milk.
Cretan Tea – Cretan tea is said to be one of the secrets of everlasting youth in Crete. The tea is made using wild herbs that only grow on the mountains of Crete and are said to have various health benefits plus healing properties.
Raki– Also known as Tsikoudia, raki is a popular spirit drunk all around Crete. A small glass or shot of ice-cold raki is often served complimentary, alongside desserts such as fruit platters or Greek Yogurt with Candied Grapes (we offer this dessert with all Greek Cookaway menus).
Exploring THE Best Beaches IN CRETE
After eating and drinking everything in sight, our second favourite thing to explore in Crete were the fabulous beaches. Out of the sixty on offer, we’ve picked our three favourites:
Elafonisi Beach – this beach has been voted several times as not only one of the best beaches in Europe but also in the world. Elafonisi is known for its breath-taking, pink-coloured sand (that is composed of millions of crushed seashells) which stretches across the beach and attracts many tourists every summer.
Kalyves Beach – Kalyves is a picturesque village located 20 kilometres east of Chania and it is surrounded by wonderful sandy beaches with clear waters. Kalyves beach has deep, soft sands and shallow waters and behind the beach is a good selection of tavernas and shops.
Marathi Beach – Marathi has 3 coves with crystal, shallow waters, protected by strong winds. It is extremely popular among locals along with the nearby Loutraki beach and is ideal for families.
If you’re feeling inspired to learn more about Cretan culture, why not transport yourself to Crete straight from your kitchen with one of Irini’s amazing Greek Cookaway recipes or join Irini’s next Cookalong where she’ll be cooking her famous Chicken Pastitsada.